The first month of graduate school has gone quickly, just as I suspected. See the first post explaining all this here. I’ve gotten very used to all the twists and turns on Hwy 20 (and can tell you that Cascadian Farms is closing after Nov 2!), but I’ve also figured out how to print documents at the library (an undergrad had to teach me), taken a city bus to campus (this is a big deal for me!), and taken advantage of all the recreational fees I’m required to pay by lap swimming in the wonderfully large indoor pool on campus (first lap swim in about 14 years). This is all along with all my schooling of course.
The first three classes within the Masters of Education in Environmental Education program involve a lot of reading and discussion, to the point that I feel like most days are formalized book clubs, but there is also a lot of useful overlap in the classes and a lot of self-reflection, self-inquiry and self-direction, to the point that I also feel like I’m going to counseling session (both in my head and in group therapy). One could wonder if it’s worth the money to attend advanced book clubs/therapy sessions, but so far I would give it an enthusiastic “Yes!” though I know there is still a lot of difficult work ahead of me. Someone told me a couple of weeks ago that going to graduate school is giving a gift to yourself. The sentiment didn’t fully soak in at the time, but I totally get it now. I am pampering myself with the time and space to explore, learn, express, discover, understand and grow, about myself and about how I want to use what I learn and how I grow. I am extremely grateful to the Methow Conservancy for allowing me to do this.
As one might suspect "The Tao of Pooh" uses Winnie-the-Pooh and his cast of friends as a way to explain the philosophy and primarily tenets of Taoism (aka Daoism). Pooh is the embodiment of Taoism according to the author Benjamin Hoff.
This was the longest chapter in the book and I think it was my favorite. And though it was longer than the other chapters, it had clear, easy to understand points, namely: we all have a unique Inner Nature; know and trust yourself; things are as they are; accept your limitations; we don’t have to know and understand everything; and, self-reliance starts with all of this.
Cottleston Pie is one of Pooh’s songs that Hoff uses to highlight Taoist principles. One part of the song says, “A fly can’t bird, but a bird can fly.” This notion is one all of us understand - you can’t put a square peg in a round hole. How do we apply this to our lives and values, behaviors and attitudes? Hoff says, “…things are as they are…everything has its own place and function…” This applies to people and our world of nature and things. A key piece of the book for me is the statement, “When you know and respect your own Inner Nature, you know where you belong.”
Next, the song says, “A fish can’t whistle and neither can I,” which Hoff kindly explains as “I have certain limitations and I know what they are.” This is a bit like the “make lemonade out of lemons” saying in that Hoff says this principle isn’t about throwing your hands up at your weaknesses but, first, recognizing them, and second, understanding them so that you can perhaps use them to your advantage or even turn them into strengths. This part of the Cottleston Pie chapter was not my favorite part. It felt like a motherly know-it-all telling me that I can’t use the word “can’t.” But, this is all part of the big Cottleston Pie picture.
The final verse in the song is, “Why does a chicken, I don’t know why.” It means, “We Don’t Know!” I love this because it says, stop trying to figure all this out; we don’t know and we don’t need to know. Hoff says all we really need to do is “recognize Inner Nature and work with Things As They Are.” (Cottleston Pie stands for Inner Nature)
A lack of Inner Nature speaks to what has happened to so many of us and what I think is one of the core reasons humans have caused so much damage to each other and to our planet. Hoff writes, “Unlike other forms of life, though, people are easily led away from what’s right for them, because people have Brain, and Brain can be fooled. Inner Nature, when relied on, cannot be fooled. But many people do not look at it or listen to it, and consequently do not understand themselves very much. Having little understanding of themselves, they have little respect for themselves, and are therefore easily influenced by others.” I think this speaks volumes and, unfortunately, probably characterizes most of us to some degree. Are any of us really content with (let alone fully aware of) our true self? Aren’t most of us trying to be who we think we should be or who others think we should be? We let people (and definitely the media and the capitalist system, which could be a whole other paper) make us feel unimportant, small and unworthy.
Wrapping up Hoff says, “The Way of Self-Reliance starts with recognizing who we are, what we've got to work with, and what works best for us.” Being self-sufficient is a very important thing for me - something I’ve worked consciously and specifically towards for the last 10 years - but I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I’ve never thought about it in quite these terms. Basically, self-reliance starts with who I am, not with what I can (grow food) or can’t (build a house) do.
Near the end of the book, Hoff says that Tz’u, which is “caring” or “compassion,” is one of the greatest things we can have and do. From caring comes courage and wisdom. He talks about living lives of desperation and clinging to hollow substitutes and it made me think of something I constantly remind myself of - that we are all struggling to understand “what’s it all about?” whether we know it or not, and that we need to be more compassionate with ourselves and others. It’s the first step, as Hoff says, to “setting ourselves free.”